James Ambrose Johnson Jr. February 1, — August 6, , better known by his stage name Rick James , was an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York , James began his musical career in his teen years. He was in various bands before entering the U. Navy to avoid being drafted into the army. In , James deserted to Toronto , Canada , where he formed the rock band the Mynah Birds , who eventually signed a recording deal with Motown Records in James' career with the group halted after military authorities discovered his whereabouts and eventually convicted and sentenced James to a one-year prison term related to the desertion charges. After being released, James moved to California, where he started a variety of rock and funk groups in the late s and early s. After forming the locally popular Stone City Band in his hometown of Buffalo in , James finally found success as a recording artist after signing with Motown's Gordy Records , releasing the album Come Get It! In , James released his most successful album, Street Songs , which included career-defining hits such as " Give It to Me Baby " and " Super Freak ", the latter song becoming his biggest crossover single , mixing elements of funk, disco, rock and new wave.
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The book, written with David Ritz, was finished posthumously James died of a heart attack in , at age 56 and is out this week, alongside a digital box set of his Complete Motown Albums. James became one of the leading lights of funk in the late Seventies and early Eighties, but across the years, the singer was equally obsessed with sex and drugs. He also became friendly with Joni Mitchell they would stay up all night listening to jazz , and she recommended Neil Young, who joined James in a band called the Mynah Birds. They got signed to Motown and were ready to release a single — but it got shelved when the U. Street Songs James scuffled on the periphery of the music business for many years before breaking through, watching friends become famous, making money however he could including drug smuggling from India and Colombia and periodically ending up in jail. Now perfection had turned to pure shit.
Rick James? Aw, man! The guy was a super freak. He invented punk-funk.